The tough on crime era

‘The deeply embedded nastiness of the current governing party’

<p>Close up of male hands in handcuffs/Getty Images</p>

Close up of male hands in handcuffs/Getty Images

A Manitoba judge has defied one of the Harper government’s mandatory minimum sentences.

Mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes are intended to address the scourge of drive-by shootings and gang turf wars, not to put a remorseful bullying victim behind bars with hardened criminals, Menzies said. “The means used by Parliament to address the objective of gun violence more than minimally impairs the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment,” he wrote in his 33-page ruling…

Mandatory minimum sentences give an unfair advantage to the Crown by making it more likely for the accused to plead guilty to a lesser offence for fear of risking a long prison sentence, Menzies said. There is also more reluctance on the part of the court to convict an accused facing a lengthy sentence, he said.

Putting first offenders in prison alongside more serious criminals also increases the chances of recidivism and makes it more likely the inmate will join a gang just to survive the sentence, Menzies added. “And in cases such as the present one, there is the danger of reversing all the progress made by an accused in seeking out treatment while waiting his trial by sending him to a federal penitentiary,” he said.

That makes at least five judges—following a judge in British Columbiatwo judges in Ontario and another judge in Manitoba—who have ruled against applying mandatory minimums to individuals found guilty of firearm offences. One of those cases is among a half dozen that the Ontario Court of Appeal will be ruling on.

Meanwhile, the former director general of the government’s corrections and criminal justice directorate is generally unimpressed.

“The current government has an approach that they like to call tough on crime. I say that’s the last thing it is. In fact it’s quite soft on crime because it’s really a lot of slogans and failed policies that do nothing to address crime or victimization.”

Some of the rhetoric, she said, was on display this summer when Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced new legislation for dealing with child-sex offenders. “The fact is we don’t understand them and we don’t particularly care to. We understand only that they must be dealt with,” Harper said at the time.

Campbell said those remarks are “chilling when we think of them used with other groups of citizens today and in the past.” “The deeply embedded nastiness of the current governing party is constantly displayed in their actions, whether it be creating even more punitive carceral conditions, erecting barriers to reintegration, never letting the offender be more than the worst thing they have ever done, using victims for political ends – the list is truly endless,” she wrote in her conference speaking notes.

Prisoners in four provinces are currently on strike to protest a cut in the amount they can earn for doing work (they currently earned an average of $3 per day).